De-Extinction: Revive & Restore the Great Auk, Woolly Mammoth, North America’s Passenger Pigeon
Wooly Times to Come
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser Tuesday, March 4, 2014
The New York Times recently had a lengthy article on The Mammoth Cometh by Nathaniel Rich. It describes current efforts to recreate extinct species, from the Woolly Mammoth (gone for about 5,000 years) to New Zealand’s Great Auk and North America’s Passenger Pigeon. The latter found its demise exactly 100 years ago this year.
Those are just some of the species the Revive & Restore “de-extinction” project has under consideration. The California Grizzly Bear, the Carolina Parakeet, the Tasmanian Tiger and Steller’s Sea Cow are also mentioned as potential candidates for revival. Presumably, all the “de-extincted” species are meant to again freely roam the Earth and in large numbers.
Revive & Restore
The Revive & Restore project is spearheaded by the husband and wife team of Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan, with assistance from Ben Novak, Perry Hall and others. Their brief bios can be found at the project’s website.
It may well be possible to “revive” some of these extinct species with modern scientific methods though some scientists don’t think so. Passenger pigeons might find sufficient habitat and food in the harvested areas of the grain fields on the continent, but seeing again swarms of 50 million pigeons darkening the sky is not likely, even if they can be de-extincted.
Some previously extinct parakeets may also add to the variety of birds you can mark off on your life list of bird species seen. But when it comes to grizzly bears, tigers and mammoths I am not so sure about the need for having thousands of their kind roam the neighborhood nearby.
Wooly mammoths disappeared near the end of the last ice age, roughly 10,000 years ago. As Robert Felix describes it in his book Not by Fire but by Ice, the mammoths became extinct for a reason beyond man’s influence. According to Felix it began with calamitous snowfalls and cold that literally froze the mammoths on the spot. Relics of well-preserved mammoths have been found standing still up right at river banks after the water washed away the surrounding silt. These corpses are not just skin and bones; they contain the entire bodies with soft tissues, some even with undigested food in their stomachs.
In other areas of Siberia and the Czech Republic large fields of mammoth bones were found. These deposits involved the remnants of many thousands of animals and were so large that entrepreneurs started commercial mining operations to have the bones dug up for the sole purpose of grinding them into fertilizer.
Now I have no problem with (live) mammoths—from a safe distance.
After all, they were herbivores largely living on grass, like modern elephants. Their monstrous tusks just make them look so majestic. I don’t think anyone ever figured out why they were sporting them. In any event, I think that modern DNA-science probably has a good chance of de-extincting the Woollies if so desired. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily want one to wander through my backyard; there are limits to my tolerance, but in the middle of the Siberian Taiga, they might become a tourist attraction—from a safe distance.
About the grizzlies and tigers, I’ll have to reserve judgement at this time. It may just depend on who is standing in front of me when I come across one.
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser Bio
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
Dr. Kaiser can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org